Income Property Flips to Sell

In three weeks homeowners renovate a kitchen, living space and bathrooms to attract buyers.

HGRM-House-Counselor-Income-Property-beauty_s4x3 Photography by Daniel Collopy

For years, Josh Crosby and Amy Swift-Crosby held on to the Santa Monica, Calif., townhouse Josh bought in 2004, when he was still a bachelor. It served them well as income property while they raised their two daughters in the Venice, Calif., home they'd bought together, and built their own businesses.


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But by 2012, the couple had grown tired of being landlords. Moreover, both of their businesses were flourishing: The Indo-Row workout Josh had developed was taking off, and Smarty, the educational and community-building organization Amy had created for entrepreneurs, was thriving. Both businesses would benefit from the cash the sale of the townhouse could provide.

So the couple decided to put the townhouse on the market. There was just one problem: Because their renter was still living there, they couldn't make the repairs the townhouse would need to attract the right buyer. But when the renter unexpectedly moved out, they saw it as the perfect opportunity to fix the place up. They immediately called home renovation expert Laurie March.

March's first words of advice to the couple: Don't overinvest, and don't overdesign. "When you invest money in a house before you put it on the market, you don't want to overdo it," March said. "You're not designing for yourself. You want to take everything back to a clean, classic place, make it a clean start for the new buyer."

After walking through the property, March decided to focus on two areas: the kitchen and bathrooms. The spaces were original to the townhouse, which was built in 1981, and made the place look and feel dated.


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Starting in the Kitchen

Crosby and Swift-Crosby hired a friend, Todd Mallis, as the main contractor for the renovation. He and March first surveyed the kitchen to see what could stay. The cabinets were in good shape but needed a facelift to give the room a more modern look. With just a fresh coat of paint (white for the ones on top, light gray for the ones on the bottom) and brushed silver hardware, they were ready to go.

The countertops, covered in white tile with a dark grout, had to go. "When I walked in there, those countertops just screamed at me," March said. "In an instant, you could see they hadn't been updated since the 1980s. And that makes buyers wonder what else hasn't been updated."

March chose butcher block countertops and white subway tile for the backsplash, to give the kitchen a modern feel. To complete the look, Mallis installed a new sink from Ikea with a tall, sleek U-shaped faucet, along with all new stainless steel appliances.

A small carpeted room adjacent to the kitchen also got some much-needed attention. March and Mallis transformed it into extra storage space, with built-in shelving for wine bottles and dishes.

Next Up: Bathrooms

March went to work on the bathrooms. Both the guest and master were filled with peach-colored tile that looked "really dated," she said. But tearing out and replacing the tile would have been too expensive to make sense, so instead she decided to have the tile refinished in a custom-mixed light gray shade.

She also replaced the creaky, dated vanity with a sleek gray vanity for a more modern look.

Instead of spending a fortune tearing out and replacing the bathroom's dated pink tile, March decided to have the tile refinished in a neutral gray.

Is this Townhouse Buyer-Ready?

Three weeks later, with the renovations complete, Crosby and Swift-Crosby put the townhouse back on the market. And although potential buyers came through and raved about the updated kitchen and bathrooms, the couple still wasn't getting any offers.

That's when March brought in Connie Tebyani of Platinum Home Staging. Tebyani walked through the townhouse with March , and Josh and Amy's realtor, Kelly Sutherland, and discussed why she thought the place wasn't selling.

"People were still confused," March said. "The place has this open floor plan, and it was hard to tell how you might live in the space."

So Tebyani furnished and decorated the townhouse, sticking with a grey and white color scheme with a few green and blue accent pieces, to reinforce the beachy feel afforded by the home’s coastal location. She also kept the furnishings clean and modern, to appeal to the type of person Sutherland thought would buy the place: a young, newly married couple, or a young single person.

The plan worked: Within two weeks, the townhouse sold, giving Josh and Amy's businesses a welcome infusion of cash.

"People don't want to have to remodel a place they just bought; it's intimidating," March said. "This renovation was a total success."

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